Entering a dream is like stepping down into the cave of the psyche where the contents are unknown to us.
Before the work of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, modern western culture in general did not pay close attention to dreams other then to note their usual or unusual appearance. By contrast indigenous cultures dating back to the beginning of recorded history considered dreams an important part of their everyday communication with the cosmos and depended on them to understand the things they needed to pay close attention to — the location of good hunting grounds or personal guidance or community issues. Dreams were understood to be direct messages from their true self, their over soul. In cooperation with their shaman or healer they would work with their dreams to understand them and to make changes that would affect their outward reality.
It was their belief that we are always dreaming, even during the day time, and that our nighttime dreams actually create the dream of our daytime but that both realities are fluid and can thus be affected and changed by interacting with and understanding our dreams. The dream was thus highly regarded and individuals from these cultures were expected to report their dreams to safeguard the well being of their community. Their link to the timeless realms kept them in close contact with the fluidity of life, and the ever-changing act of creation through the imagination.
Dreams bring playfulness and an inexpressible joy into out lives. There is humor and combinations of characters that show up to surprise and delight us. How many times are you in a dream and somehow you get from one place to another without effort. It is as if the dream world is constantly presenting possibility where our mind has learned obstacle, encouraging us to take the leaps our soul so wants to make, to contradict the sense of limitation and doom we carry around.
Even though it happens all the time that the intentions of a group or a strong individual will bring into being something that was not possible in the past, we have made a certain category for that type of thing but are careful not to assign any meaning to it for ourselves and what we are capable of. We tell ourselves that dreams are for nighttime and are not ‘for real’. In his Book, "In Search of Character and Calling", Jungian psychologist and author James Hillman suggests the possibility that our souls are always constructing scenery and challenges in our lives so that the acorn of our true identity and calling can come to fruition.
But modern culture has difficulty thinking this way. Thus, our culture is viewed by these ancient cultures as “The People of Time”.
We have projected our individual ability to imagine on ‘special’ individuals or institutions like television, the film industry, or ‘famous people’. It is no wonder that our children are chained to these programs out of hunger for their own imagination.
In "Awakening to the Spirit World, the Shamanic Path of Direct revelation", Sandra Ingerman and Hank Wesselman write:
“Perhaps the greatest enemy or obstacle to a man or woman of knowledge is the belief that one can be victimized by outside circumstances or trapped by fate.”
They call us into active participation with reality in order to see our lives not as hard solid masses of unchangeable facts but as the territory of explorers whose mission is to uncover the true nature of our reality and to play with it, through our dreams and personal visions. And so, dreams have continued to come to us. It is the use of dreams we have let go of. And it is the use and the understanding of how to work with dreams I would like to talk about.
The wonderful thing about a dream is that it is unrestrained; it is not polite or conscious of social status or constrained by the rules of the culture. It comes to us often unbidden and it is often filled with characters completely unlike ourselves.
Martin Prechtel, in "Secrets of the Talking Jaguar", writes:
“Dreams are a direct, incorruptible expression of the mysterious nature of life and are considered to be free of human connivance.”
A dream provides an unfiltered hologram of the dynamics playing out in our lives, the fears and the beliefs that we are carrying as well as the potentials in our lives that have not yet come to fruition. And often the most difficult part of reflecting on a dream is getting over our bias for our own dream character to see what information the dream and the shadow characters are presenting to us!
In working with a dream we usually see that the dream is divided into scenes or stages:
- The first stage usually presents the characters and a situation being introduced.
- The second stage offers us an example of how a habitual dynamic is playing out and the emotions associated.
- The third stage often offers us a surprise, an indication that some long held belief is being violated
- The fourth stage often shows us the medicine or resolution to the habit in the dream. Many times the medicine is being offered through a shadow dream character that our dream character has not been able to see with appreciation or has labeled "bad."
This is the part of dream work that is the most interesting. We are shown our own shadow characters that we usually build a case against but who are actually trying to show us an aspect of ourselves that has been driven underground. For example, we might have a character in our dream that we label "lazy" or "good for nothing", while our own character is "hard working and stressed out". We might have a fear of being labeled ourselves as lazy and are over compensating by driving ourselves harshly. Or there might be a childhood wound of having been labeled lazy when really we were young, wide-eyed and open to our inner nature. When we are kids our families because of their own stresses and wounding often ignore our most sensitive qualities. And sometimes we adopt the opposite tendencies to deflect attention from a place of vulnerability.
To see a potential in a dream we need to be able to be tremendously honest with ourselves and work to find some quality in the other (shadow) characters that we can appreciate in some way. We may ask ourselves "What do all of the other characters in the dream have in common unlike me?" Perhaps there will be a woman in the dream that we have labelled 'pushy'. However when we look carefully at her we can see that she is not shy about the way she presents herself, something that in real life we have difficulty with.
Often the characters that play in our dreams trigger strong biases for or against and this too often prevents us initially from seeing another quality in them the dream is trying to bring us.
Dreams offer a vehicle to a deeply creative and resourceful existence; an unscripted and unconditioned life waiting to be discovered. When we work with the material of dreams we can invoke our deepest, innermost selves and through this conversation provoke change at the core level of our lives.
Because our dreams are completely unique to us as individuals they can suggest an entirely personal resolution to one’s inner and outer dilemmas. Dreams evolve with us. They change as we change.
As this series develops we will be addressing specific dreams, take them apart and look at all the pieces and see how one can learn from them. I will ask readers to write in with their own dreams so we can have a live interaction to the dream material.
Stay tuned for part two — "How to remember your dreams", and more...